— Rebecca Northan as Mimi
Vancouver theatergoers have become connoisseurs of improvisation, with access to an embarrassment of local riches. We’ve enjoyed the quick-witted talents of Vancouver TheatreSports League players for over three decades, the likes of Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Nancy Robertson. We have Urban Improv in Kits, Instant Theatre on East Broadway, and the genius of Ryan Beil’s The Sunday Service, named Best Improv Troupe at the 2012 Canadian Comedy Awards.
So the bar is set pretty high for any out-of-towner settling in for a run of improv-based theatre in our town. Enter Rebecca Northan.
Like many of our local improvisers, Northan trained with Calgary’s Keith Johnstone, who literally wrote the book on Canadian improv. Now a busy TV and stage actor, veteran of Second City, and five-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee for Best Female Improviser, she has brought her award-winning Blind Date to The Cultch for the next two weeks.
If you appreciate the finer arts of improv, you will absolutely love this show.
Northan plays a character named Mimi, an elegant Frenchwoman with a red clown nose. The premise is that she has a blind date with a member of the audience whom she chooses, and who agrees, to spend the next ninety minutes on stage with her.
There’s a loose structure to the evening, two other clever actors (Jamie Northan and Bruce Horak as a waiter, a cop, a couple of hoser neighbours), and a few different locations—a bar, her car, her apartment. There’s also a Time Out area stage right where the date can go any time he feels uncomfortable during the improvisation, and where they’ll discuss his issues.
Because she has a different date every night, every night produces an entirely different show. The night I attended, Northan set herself a stiff challenge by picking probably the least lively, least animated, least outgoing man in the entire theatre.
Let’s call him Norman. Norman is a shy young man with a soft little voice and a hunched-over posture that makes him look like he wants to disappear into his own navel. Which was exactly what he seemed to want to do for a lot of the show.
In fact it was Mimi, not Norman, who called Time Out every so often to explain to him that he was supposed to ask her first-date-type questions (Are you a student or do you work? How old are you? Would you like to dance?), take the initiative for a first kiss, and maybe more.
The genius of Northan’s technique is that, through Mimi’s sweet, gentle, persistent encouragement, she brought out Norman’s Inner Comic. He revealed himself to be, often inadvertently, a very funny guy.
Sitting on the couch in her apartment, snuggling up to him, she’s ready to make out.
Mimi’s coaxing also brought Norman to confess some very personal things. He had never actually been on a date or kissed a girl. Yet by the end of the show we watched Norman deliver his and Mimi’s baby in a hilarious sequence of pretty intimate physical comedy.
Mimi often looks at the audience with a lovely wide-eyed smile when her date is doing or saying something particularly surprising. But she never, not once the entire evening, mocked Norman in complicity with the audience, as she might easily have done for a cheap laugh.
Just the opposite. She praises him to the skies, tells him how sweet and honest and genuine he is. Northan makes the audience fall for her blind date as hard as we fall for her Mimi, with some of the warmest, most joyful comic improv you will ever see.